Afghan refugees congregate around makeshift tent shelters on the outskirts of Quetta on September 6. Photo: AFP / Banaras Khan

PESHAWAR- None of Afghanistan’s neighbors is prepared to take in Afghan refugees and internally displaced persons despite the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) warning that 97% of Afghanistan’s population is at risk of poverty and starvation.

The UN agency cautions that Afghanistan is inching towards a total collapse given “frozen foreign reserves, collapsing public finances, increasing pressure on the banking system, and rising poverty accentuated by persistent drought, Covid-19 pandemic and upheaval caused by the current political transition.”

Last month, a huge number of Afghans, fearing Taliban repression, thronged the Spin Boldak border with Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province. However, the Pakistani and Taliban authorities were unwilling to allow them safe passage even though a humanitarian crisis was in the offing. Instead, the Pakistani government suggested that United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) should maintain camps on the Afghan side of the border for the new refugees.

Some media reports however claim that thousands of refugees have paid $90 a person to get over to the Pakistan side of the border. The UN migration agency has reported a 40% increase in Afghans crossing over to Pakistan since May.

An early investigation carried out by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Quetta chapter revealed that during daytime the border forces at Chaman permit the crossing of Afghans who carry valid Afghan identity documents or proof of registered refugee; in the night they accept other migrants or refugees who have no valid documents to present.

The report claimed that those refugees who have no documentation pay $100 per person to the border security force to manage hassle-free passage from the Chaman border to Quetta city.

The HRCP report claimed that more than 20000 Afghans have already entered Pakistan through the Spin Boldak-Chaman border crossing after the Taliban’s takeover – the number including prisoners released from the Afghan jails. Those who managed to cross over to Pakistan have either used informal border crossings or bribed the Pakistani border force to allow entry.

Many members of the Hazara Shiite community also moved to Pakistan through the Chaman border. Thousands of Hazara Afghans are staying in different imam bargah facilities (Shiite places of mourning) and community halls at Hazara Town, Quetta.

A child peeps out from a ruptured area of a tent as other Afghan refugees talk among themselves at a temporary settlement on the outskirts of Quetta on September 6. Photo: AFP / Banaras Khan

“The Government is aware of the current situation of Afghan refugees in Balochistan but they didn’t take any necessary action to establish refugee camps in border areas of Balochistan. Even they did not put in place a mechanism to register and collect data of these Afghan refugees,” Fareed Ahmad, head of HRCP Balochistan, told Asia Times.

Dr Ali Madad, general secretary of an imam bargah facility, Imam Muhammad Baqir Hazara Town, told Asia Times that some 200-300 refugees were coming daily from Afghanistan and his organization was documenting them. “We are getting out of space to accommodate this many refugees, despite locals provided them space in their homes and rented them houses in the locality,” he added.  

Women refugees staying at imam bargah facilities told the HRCP that they had been government employees, serving in different departments in Afghanistan. The Taliban collected information about them and their families from the official record and threatened them, saying they must leave or face execution. There was no other option, they said, except to leave and seek asylum in Pakistan.

“Pakistan, last week, deported over 50 families of Hazara national including women and children who reached Quetta via Chaman after the Taliban takeover. These refugees have sneaked into Pakistan territories from different points. However, the authorities in Chaman did not allow them to stay further in the border town and pushed them back to Afghanistan,” Ahmad said.

He added that the Afghan economy is faltering and the country is fast drifting towards chronic food insecurity. If the regional countries do not open their borders to the Afghan refugees, he said, there will be an extreme humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has officially announced that it will not host Afghan refugees anymore, as Islamabad for decades has been providing shelter to 1.4 million registered refugees and up to 2 million other displaced Afghan persons.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that Iran has set up temporary camps on its eastern border where presently at least 1,000 Afghans have taken refuge. These refugees entered Iran via a land route crossing at Dogharoun. The Iranian authorities are adamant that they will repatriate these refugees once conditions in Afghanistan improve.

Iran is hosting some 800000 registered refugees and up to three million other displaced Afghans in the camps, which are segregated from the permanent community. HRW claimed that between 2019 and early 2021, Iran pushed almost 1.5 million Afghans back to Afghanistan, many involuntarily.

Afghan family refugees caught at Van, on eastern Turkey’s border with Iran, on Aug. 31. Since the Taliban government gained control of the country, the Turkish government has prevented hundreds of Afghan refugees from entering. Photo: AFP / Keigo Sakai / The Yomiuri Shimbun

The rights organizations say that Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which lie to Afghanistan’s north have been temporarily accepting Afghans including military pilots who flew helicopters and planes into Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Members of a convoy of former Afghan forces who crossed a bridge into Uzbek territory are at risk of deportation. Uzbek authorities said that they were only offering a temporary transit point for Afghans and would not give them refugees status. All Central Asian States neighboring Afghanistan have since closed their land border with Afghanistan and established temporary tent camps for Afghans.

The refugees and displaced persons from Afghanistan who migrated to Iran and Pakistan following the 1978 Saur Revolution and the 1979 Soviet invasion have been living in tented villages under wretched conditions. They are barred from going to “no-go” areas, are denied access to education and are being detained and deported without due process. HRW reports that Afghans also faced abuses in Iran.

Media reports suggest that the European Commission plans to allocate 600 million euros to Afghanistan’s neighbors, including Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, to help cover the expenses generated by an influx of Afghans. An additional 300 million euros in humanitarian assistance is earmarked for women and girls and other vulnerable groups.

The UN refugee agency estimated that over 550,000 more Afghans were displaced within the country from the beginning of the year until August 10, including about 240,000 displaced since the withdrawal of coalition military forces began in May.